Saturday 26 November 2016

Movie Review - Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

With the Harry Potter film series being such a money making machine, having it come to an end in 2011 was likely not easy for the folks at Warner Bros - as a result, finding new ways to keep the franchise evolving, especially with the ongoing trend of shared franchises, must've been a...well, a must. Back in 2001, Rowling penned a small non fiction style book set in the Potter universe, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, under the pen name of fictional character Newt Scamander, which explored various magical creatures in the world she crafted. Now, over a decade on, a major film has managed to evolve from such material - scripted by Rowling herself and directed by long time Potter devotee David Yates.

The main character is of course one Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who travels to New York in 1926 with his magical briefcase housing a number of unique creatures he seeks to protect and eventually write his own published works on. During his journey, however, behaviour of said animals and his brief conflict with muggles leads several to break free and escape into the city around them - with the aid of muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and fomer aura Tina (Katherine Waterston), Newt must recapture the creatures before their collateral damage gets out of hand, whilst also helping to prevent a new evil that begins to rise during the chaos.

I went into this film with sound expectations - and for me, there's a blend of positives and negatives, with the latter too often outweighing the former to the point of exhaustion and tediousness. The book of course has no real story - and so to develop a full scale blockbuster narrative out of it was not an easy task for sure. However, whilst I'd love to say an admirable job has been done, the film too often exposes these difficulties - with key issues being jarring tonal shifts, a generally dull narrative, weak villain, and a severely bloated run time. Character motivations also seem to be strangely mixed up in the latter portion, which is hard to fully explain without spoiling, but it essentially leads to some seriously forced scenarios that show how difficult it was to form an exciting climax for this story.

It feels like two narratives are going on at once - is this about Newt's quest to capture his missing creatures or about the mysterious villain Percival Graves (Colin Farrell)? Said villain receives barely enough screen time and is seldom developed in an interesting manner that his role is mostly forgettable despite Farrell's best efforts, and so scenes with him feel like an afterthought. Rowling is also obsessed once more with injecting insane amounts of political themes into these stories, which is of course great to make her universe as authentic and complex as ever, but it can't help but feel monotonous when we're enduring legal matters in a film that can provide so much more colour and excitement. The comedy is generally good, as are the set pieces/slapstick scenes with Newt's missing creatures, but the shame is that these may be instantly followed by abruptly dark or deeply political moments that lead to immense shifts in tone and pace.

The special effects are as good as ever, and the performances are strong despite weak character development, but the issue here is that it seems truly evident Rowling could not bring to life a compelling story from a simple non fiction-esque book. The fact that this will be followed by dozens of sequels and begin a new shared Potter film universe makes me uneasy when it gets off to a clumsy start, but who knows, perhaps some surprises await. As it is, this film stands as naught but a visually impressive, occasionally funny but otherwise dull and poorly paced disappointment, and I found myself itching for it to finish when there was at least an hour left - and said eventual hour did nothing to change my thoughts.

Friday 11 November 2016

Movie Review - A Street Cat Named Bob

Based on the best seller by James Bowen, and consequently the true story of Bowen's recovery from homelessness and drug addiction with the help of his ginger tom companion, A Street Cat Named Bob is an interesting tale that, for the most part, finds an ideal balance between staying loyal to the book and being creative in it's own right - even if, from a filmmaking perspective, there are some key flaws from aesthetic and pacing perspectives.

The story covers Bowen's (Luke Treadaway) struggle with homelessness triggered by his severe drug addiction, and consequently the loss of his family's love and trust. With little hope even after he is provided a temporary home by the council, Bowen soon meets and befriends an equally lonely ginger tom, adopting it as his own under the name Bob. With Bob's love and company, Bowen soon finds his prospects taking a sudden turn, being driven with a newly found confidence to return to the dignified self he desires to be.

With the main relationship between a man and a speechless cat, it surely wasn't an easy story to adapt, but for the most part, the creators have done a admirable job; Bob's personality is captured well through a lot of charming behaviours demonstrated by the feline in question (portrayed by the real Bob himself) and, even if the POV camerawork is sometimes a little clumsy, the way he and Bowen interact is well portrayed and both funny and touching on many occasions. However, human interaction is far from absent - Ruta Gedmintas joins the narrative as newcomer Val, the animal loving neighbour of Bowen. She plays the part well for the majority of the film, providing comic appeal and an upbeat vibe whenever she arrives on screen, but her unstable focus in the overall script makes her a little uninteresting at times - her bond with Bowen is also not as strong as it could've been when you consider what the filmmakers were aiming for. The same can also be said for Bowen's father Nigel, played by Anthony Head, who stars in a fantastic emotional scene as we near the film's end but sometimes lacks the development required to draw us into the connection between him and Bowen.

But A Street Cat Named Bob has many heartwarming moments - namely when we see Bowen, portrayed brilliantly by Treadaway, roaming the streets in search of food or coin, as well as the abuse he receives from those more fortunate than himself. His growing love for Bob is also extremely touching as their relationship begins to develop, thanks to a combination of strong development and Treadaway's performance. Such scenes feel over the top or cliché, but at the same time, are effectively crafted to make you sympathise with an unfortunate character based on a real figure and connect with the love he shares with an equally unfortunate pet. The only central issue with the film is pacing - it can sometimes be clumsy and unsteady, with some scenes lacking the development they deserve, and others feeling slightly unnecessary. Some of the acting from the extras can also feel a bit tacky, even if they are on screen for hardly any time at all. In spite of these flaws, A Street Cat Named Bob remains an endearing film and a pleasant adaptation of the book, and a film that's worth seeing for those wanting naught but a touching and somewhat informative tale without any unnecessary Hollywood complexities.